Richard Ford’s depiction of recently divorced sportswriter Frank Bascombe has been praised for its portrait of the American male written in the footsteps of predecessors such as John Updike and Ernest Hemingway. The main character, Frank Bascombe, narrates the story of his own struggle after the death of his young son, Ralph, and a painful divorce from his wife of fifteen years, whom he refers to only as X. As Frank describes his life as a traveling sportswriter and former author of fiction, the reader begins to question the sympathy he elicits at the start of the novel. The more Frank reveals about his marriage to X, his new relationship with Vicki, and his friendship with fellow divorcee Walter, he seems less confused and more cruel.
Frank Bascombe has had his share of ups and downs. He lives in the New Jersey town of Haddam in a beautiful colonial house which he bought for his family years ago. Now he is lonely and his ex-wife and two children, Paul and Clarissa, live across town. He spends much time focused on his old life, the way it had been before his little boy died of Reyes Disease. No family or marriage can ever be the same after something like this occurs. Without Frank supplying details, the reader feels empathy for Frank and his wife X. He still loves her so much that he drives by his family’s new house often, watching to see if a new man has come. Why doesn’t he ask them to come home, the reader wants to know?
Vicki is nurse and a new woman in Frank’s life. Although he is clearly still in love with X and longs to have their old life back, he takes Vicki on a work related trip to Detroit. During the short course of his relationship with Vicki, it becomes obvious that Frank has no idea what he wants in his life. He believes he loves Vicki, so to escape the misery he feels about X and his children he invites her to marry him. Yet, Vicki seems to realize what the reader has known all along, she is only a temporary fix for Frank. Much of the novel crawls by instead of being a page turner. The only attention-grabbing reading involves the true connection between X and Frank. Will she take him back, the reader wants to find out?